November 29, 2019

Computer scientist who attended conference in North Korea charged with IEEPA violations

The US Department of Justice has announced the unsealing of a November 21, 2019 criminal complaint against Virgil Griffith for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), 50 USC §§ 1701-1706.  According to the complaint, Griffith, a US citizen who holds a doctorate in computational and neural systems, traveled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in April 2019 in order to make a presentation at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, after having been denied permission to travel to Pyongyang by the US Department of State.  The complaint alleges that Griffith provided the DPRK with valuable information on blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, and participated in discussions about using such technology to evade sanctions and launder money, including sending an electronic telephone message saying that North Koreans’ interest in cryptocurrency would consist in “probably avoiding sanctions.”  In addition, Griffith is alleged neither to have sought nor received approval from the Office of Foreign Assets Control to travel to or provide services to the DPKR, and furthermore, to have encouraged other US citizens to travel to the DPKR.

The US alleges that Griffith’s conduct violates the IEEPA and the North Korea Sanctions Regulations, promulgated pursuant to Executive Orders 13466 and 13722.

SDNY press release | Complaint